Title: The Summer That Melted Everything
Author: Tiffany McDaniel
Publisher: St. Martin’s Press/Macmillan
Genre: Literary Fiction; Contemporary Horror, Gothic
Release date: 26th July 2016 (today!)
My rating: ★★★★☆
Fielding Bliss has never forgotten the summer of 1984: the year a heat wave scorched Breathed, Ohio. The year he became friends with the devil.
Sal seems to appear out of nowhere — a bruised and tattered thirteen-year-old boy claiming to be the devil himself answering an invitation. Fielding Bliss, the son of a local prosecutor, brings him home where he’s welcomed into the Bliss family, assuming he’s a runaway from a nearby farm town.
When word spreads that the devil has come to Breathed, not everyone is happy to welcome this self-proclaimed fallen angel. Murmurs follow him and tensions rise, along with the temperatures as an unbearable heat wave rolls into town right along with him. As strange accidents start to occur, riled by the feverish heat, some in the town start to believe that Sal is exactly who he claims to be. While the Bliss family wrestles with their own personal demons, a fanatic drives the town to the brink of a catastrophe that will change this sleepy Ohio backwater forever.
General Thoughts | Non Spoiler
Based on the synopsis alone, The Summer That Melted Everything wouldn’t be the sort of book I’d be tempted to pick up off the shelf, so I’m actually really glad that Tiffany McDaniel emailed me offering an ARC from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. Although it took me a few chapters to get into it, I was soon totally invested in the story, emotionally attached to the characters, and flying through the pages with my stomach in my mouth, anxiously nibbling on my fingernails. The prose most often reads beautifully, and is a perfect balance of religiously discursive and plot-driven. I gasped aloud at times, and by the end of the novel, I felt exhausted and wrung-out in the best possible way. It’s really hard to summarise such an unsettling and thought-provoking novel. It is an utterly dark, disturbing, and all-round fantastic read.
Full Review | Contains Spoilers
I’m struggling to know where to begin with this review, because I really want to do The Summer That Melted Everything justice. This is a seriously good novel, and an especially strong debut offering.
The narrator is an old man named Fielding Bliss who, from his decrepit, broken down life of self-induced poverty, recalls the sweltering summer of 1984 when he and his family were joined in their nondescript hometown of Breathed, Ohio by a thirteen-year-old black boy introducing himself as the devil. While the religious themes threatened to deter me from reading, they also intrigued me as something controversial and at the very least interesting to read discursively. I was proven right on both counts.
In writing The Summer That Melted Everything, McDaniel offers several views on heaven, earth, hell, religion, good and evil up for discussion through careful symbolism and occurrence, and you never get the answers (if any) that you expect. From the unbearable heat associated with Sal’s arrival, to the novel’s antagonist Elohim’s general lurking place on top of the churches’ steeples, it will leave you with lots of questions surrounding the assumed appearance of good and bad:
“A foolish mistake, it is, to expect the beast, because sometimes, sometimes, it is the flower’s turn to own the name.”
The novel is not absolutely perfect, hence the less than such rating. I did find the novel difficult to get into initially. The first couple of chapters include a lot of set-up for the story, e.g. the reason for Autopsy’s name, the importance of faith in his family and his loss of it. I found some of the details to be not entirely necessary to the understanding of the story, and the others I would have preferred to be interspersed throughout the novel, or demonstrated in a slightly different way. As the first things you learn when reading novel, it kind of gave the impression that this information was more important than it actually was, and leads to ambiguity concerning who the novel is primarily about. I felt like I was being led in one direction before being turned around on the spot and pushed the other way.
Secondly, although the prose read magnificently about ninety-five percent of the time, there were times where it felt a little out of place or stilted. This happened right at the beginning, where McDaniel was perhaps finding her feet within Fielding’s narrative, and at the end after Grand’s death, which in this case could easily have been passed off as grief but still did not read comfortably.
I cannot fully put my finger on my feelings towards this book. It’s hard to say I loved it because it made such harrowing reading and the content is deeply unsettling. But whatever name I can give my reaction, it is most definitely a profound and deep one, something I haven’t felt about a book for a long time. It’s a narrative that, although set thirty years ago, is still relevant today in a way that catches you off-guard (racism, religious extremism, homophobia — thank goodness we don’t have any of these in our culture anymore… Oh, right), and is truly, hauntingly memorable because of it.
A massive thank you goes to Tiffany McDaniel for asking me to read and review her wonderful debut novel, and also a big congratulations for release day, which is today!
If you would like to read The Summer That Melted Everything for yourself (which I strongly advise you do), here are some links for you to peruse:
Keep your eyes peeled for my next post, which will be an interview with the author herself! Until next time, folks!